Brake Repair: Troubleshooting Checklist

March 18, 2013

Brake repair is not something to be taken lightly, nor is it something you should feel confident doing after reading a short Internet article. However, if you think your vehicle may be in need of a brake job, then following are 3 main areas where you may be able to diagnose the problem before calling in the experts.

Common Causes of Brake Noise

1. Brake Pads

Brake noise can be caused by vibrations between any number of your car’s braking components. Noise coming from the brake pads can often be fixed with brake lube, if this still does not solve the problem and there are no other worn or damaged parts, replacing the brake pads can eliminate the noise.

2. Brake Caliper

The caliper is where the brake pads are mounted and it applies the forces to the brake pads that stops your car. Therefore, if the calipers are not sufficiently lubricated, they can cause brake noise. Replacing worn slides, pins or bushings which operate within the calipers can also eliminate noise.

Common Drum Brake Issues

1. Drum Brakes Self-Adjust

Over the course of their life, drum brakes are designed to self-adjust as they wear, this ensures continued safety and performance. However, if the self-adjusting components of your drum brakes have stopped adjusting, then your brakes will wear unevenly and the parts will need to be replaced. You can tell if the parts are worn as you will experience a low pedal.

If the self-adjusting components of your brakes are over adjusted, the brake lining can wear out too quickly as the brakes are pushed too far and drag against the drum. You may be able to diagnose this issue because your brakes are making unusual noise, or your rear wheels lock up.

2. Drum Brakes Lock Up

If there is an issue with your drum brakes, they can stop your wheels from turning. The cause of the lock up is likely to be a rusty or damaged hand brake cable which does not respond when released. You can easily check the condition of the hand brake cable from under the vehicle, without having to dissemble the brakes.

The wheel cylinder of your drum brakes may also be stuck, causing your wheels to lock. The wheel cylinders can become stuck open due to corrosion inside the brakes from dirty brake fluid, and this causes the brakes to push against the drum even when you have released the brake pedal.

Common Brake Fluid Issues

1. You Have ABS Brakes

If you are encountering problems checking the brake fluid in your vehicle, it could be because you have ABS brakes. Before opening and inspecting the reservoir of brake fluid, you may be required to pump the brake pedal 25 to 30 times first. Your owner’s manual should be able to confirm this.

2. Dirty Brake Fluid

Dirt might have gotten into the brake fluid during the course of your driving, but to ensure you don’t contaminate your brake fluid when you are opening the reservoir, clean the top first. Even a small amount of dirt falling into the fluid can cause the internal seals of the master brake cylinder to fail. If your brake fluid is dark in color, you will need to have it cleaned out and replaced.

Above are just some of the problems and solutions which can help you when completing brake repairs. However, if you are still not sure how to diagnose a specific brake problem you are encountering, consult your owner’s manual, or a reliable mechanic for the solution.

Related Questions and Answers

Do Aftermarket Brake Rotors have Better Warranties than OEM?

In general, aftermarket brake rotors and OEM brake rotors are comparable unless your car is still under warranty. If your car is still under warranty, then you must use OEM parts, because aftermarket brake rotors will void your car’s warranty. If your car is no longer warrantied by the factory, then you can easily purchase a good set of Brembo or like-minded rotors. Possibly cross-drilled or metallic, for example, and find they carry a warranty as good as the warranty you will find on OEM rotors. Indeed, Brembos are used as OEM on many special factory editions.

For more info, see Brake Repair: Troubleshooting Checklist

How Do Dustless Brake Pads Work?

Dustless brake pads are made of ceramic materials and have several advantages over more standard asbestos brake pads, semi-metallic, or metallic brake pads. Where asbestos, semi-metallic and metallic brakes pads create wheel dust, ceramic brake pads do not create brake dust at all, and they have better heat absorbing qualities. Plus, they are far quieter than metallic or semi-metallic brake pads and are easier on rotors. The only drawback of dustless or ceramic brake pads is their softness and tendency to wear out more quickly than other types. Still, in today’s eco-conscious world, the ceramic brake pad has all the advantages and some drawbacks, but they are worth the investment.

For more info, see Brake Repair: Troubleshooting Checklist

Are Aluminum Brake Drums the Longest Lasting Material for Brake Drums?

Aluminum brake drums are honestly not a very good idea because aluminum actually has a relatively low flash or melt point. If you find you have to hit the brakes very hard and the vehicle uses rear aluminum drum brakes, it is quite likely that not only would the aluminum fade quickly, but also that the heat buildup can cause the brakes to seize or fuse. The best brake drum material continues to be a semi-metallic mixture of standard brake materials, such as asbestos, with a variety of sintered metal included in the mix. The mix of metals and brake materials might include aluminum among other metals.

For more info, see Brake Repair: Troubleshooting Checklist

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